Thursday, April 28, 2011

Golden Age Superheroes - Triple Terror

As a followup to my last post on Mirror Man I'm presenting the Triple Terror, the other original feature appearing in Tip Top Comics published by United Features Syndicate. They were, quite literally, triplets - Bruce, Barton and Richard Brandon, who all specialised in certain fields of endeavor. Barton is the chemistry expert, hence the beaker on his chest; Richard is the electronics expert so he has a lightning bolt on his chest; and Bruce is the brains of the outfit so he has the all-seeing eye on his chest, their hero names being, respectively, Chemix, Lectra and Menta. They are, to the best of my knowledge, the only male triplet group in comics. (I figure someone might raise the Legion of Superheroes Triplicate Girl if I didn't specify male, although technically Triplicate Girl was really the same person who could split into three versions of herself - and I know some of you guys had the same fantasy as I have about that little superpower.) But I digress. The Triple Terror were sort of freelance operatives that solved crimes and such. This strip was done by the same pair that produced Mirror Man. In issue #73 of Tip Top they went into the army for the duration of the war and finally wrapped up their adventures in #119. One of the stories I have they battle someone dressed as a rat who is murdering people. In the end of the story the disguised murderer turns out to be a female, which was a little different outcome. The action figures were all made from Hasbro Bruce Wayne figures painted appropriately. Everything was basically the same since they were triplets.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Golden Age Superheroes - Mirror Man

Tip Top Comics, published by United Features Syndicate, was a product of the late 1930s - essentially a compilation of Sunday funnies like Fritzi Ritz and Nancy, Tailspin Tommy, Li'l Abner, Tarzan and a number of others. But with the rise of the superhero wave in the late 1930s there was apparently a move at United Features to add some original material. Thus were born a couple of superhero strips for Tip Top - the one I'm featuring today being Mirror Man. Dean Alder operates the Alder Academy for Boys (I guess his first name is Dean but he must also be the dean of the school). At any rate, he discovers a mysterious garment that allows him to pass through a mirror and become invisible. He can go where he wants and spy on people and even beat the crap out of them unseen, but must pass back through a mirror in order to be seen again. That would actually be a pretty handy capability. Anyway, as Mirror Man he engages in various crime-fighting activities including battling a fellow who was making devices that could be exploded by remote control that he was sending to the nation's leadership. Mirror Man began in issue #54 of Tip Top Comics and in #73 joined the war effort, finally ending his run in #99. The action figure had the body and arms from a Toy Biz Silver Surfer and the legs from a Daredevil, while the head is from a Toy Biz Superman. The hood I sewed from T-shirt material. The other superhero characters from Tip Top were the Triple Terror, which I plan to feature next.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wartime Heroes - Captain Commando

I've featured and talked before about some of the patriotic heroes that appeared during World War II. These included the most famous Captain America, but also the Shield, American Crusader, V-Man, Super-American and many more. Most of these disappeared right after the war but a few soldiered on - pun intended. Then there were the guys who were more soldier-like and one of these is our featured character today, Captain Commando from MLJ (later Archie Comics). Appearing in Pep Comics #30 in August 1942 and continuing through #56, the captain led a group of (mostly European) kids called the Boy Soldiers, one of whom was named Brooklyn so I assume that's where he was from - he certainly tawked like he was. Now kid sidekicks are one thing but jumping into Germany with a bunch of kids seems like not the most responsible of adult actions, but it all seemed to fit into the stories. Captain Commando himself was John Grayson, with no special powers or anything, but certainly a patriotic heart and a good right hook, which in one story he used on Adolf Hitler personally. The action figure was made using a Toy Biz Captain America, which I sanded all the scale armor off of, and the head from a JLA Superman, which I sanded the hair down from. The "V" on the belt was cut from sheet plastic and the ends of his tied on mask were cloth.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Golden Age Hero - Firebrand

I have been slowly working my way through the heroes that first appeared in the pages of Quality's Police Comics #1, August 1941 and I'm going to finish up today with Firebrand. This was another one of those poor, bored, filthy rich playboys who apparently is no longer trilled by fast, expensive cars and even pricier fast women and so turns his suddenly altruistic attentions to putting on a costume and fighting crime in the streets. In his first adventure he has already taken on the mantle of Firebrand, actually Rod Reilly, who has been trained in the art of fisticuffs by his valet, the ex prize fighter Slugger. Criminals are shooting window washers who won't pay protection and Firebrand rushes off to investigate. Actually the bad guys are killing the window washers so they can substitute their own men to case rich people's homes in high rise buildings. Firebrand is suspected by the police so even though he brings the bad guys to justice in the end he's still wanted for various crimes. By the way, the reason he's called Firebrand is because where ever he defeats crime he leaves behind a flaming torch of justice (OK, maybe Flaming Torch would have been a more appropriate name but remember, I don't make these stories up). Firebrand lasted about 13 issues and then was later revived by DC Comics when they bought out the Quality line. He also got a sister who took over the Firebrand brand (OK I did make the quip up). The action figure was a Super Powers Collection Superman, who's hair I sanded down and removed the boot tops, then sculpted the collar of his shirt and used some fabric for the loose ends of his mask.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Golden Age Heroine - Phantom Lady 2

The other day I posted the Quality Comics superheroine Phantom Lady. What I failed to mention was that there was more than one Golden Age Phantom Lady. This is a classic example of how the art studios and the comics publishers had a rather ambiguous relationship. When Quality folded production of their version of Phantom Lady the Iger Studio, apparently believing they owned the copyright, assigned the feature to Fox Features Syndicate. Featuring the really stunning "good-girl art" of Matt Baker (see the cover behind the figure) the "new" Phantom Lady picked up in Fox's Phantom Lady #13 (taking over the numbering from another comic) in 1947 and running until 1949. She was still Sandra Knight, still the daughter of Senator Knight and still the girlfriend of Don Borden. She still had the black light projector although it was usually carried in a pouch at her waist. Her adventures were later reprinted by Ajax-Farrell Publications and by Charlton Comics in turn, until the stable of characters were acquired by DC Comics. For this second incarnation Phantom Lady was given a blue and red costume, showed more skin and was generally more exciting. The cover I'm showing today was even used by Dr. Fredric Wertham in his book "Seduction of the Innocent" as an example of how excited the kids of America should not be getting with the comics they were reading. I don't know - looks pretty good to me. As for the action figure, I used another Super Powers Collection Wonder Woman figure but painted it blue and red and added a pouch at her right hip, as well as a larger red cape.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Golden Age Heroine - Phantom Lady

Phantom Lady was another character who made her debut in the first issue of Police Comics along with Plastic Man and the Human Bomb. In her first adventure it is revealed that she is secretly Sandra Knight, debutant daughter of Senator Henry Knight. She is driving her father outside of Washington to witness the test of a new explosive, but the inventor is kidnapped and several people are killed over the invention. She confers with her State Department investigator boy friend Don Borden, then changes into her Phantom Lady persona, complete with a black light ray projector, to take matters into her own hands. That means there's no origin in her first appearance so we are left to conjecture if she's just a bored socialite looking for an exciting way to jazz up her evenings or what. At any rate she finds the bad guy's hideout, rescues the tortured inventor and all is well in the end. It's not explained in this first issue where this "black light" projector comes from, although another source says that it was sent to her father by a Professor Davis. In the story she uses a hand-held projector that looks a little like a flashlight and also has black light projectors rigged on her car. I must confess that the action figure I did is from a later appearance of the character, who seems to have modified her wardrobe quite a bit over the course of her run in Police and Feature Comics. The figure is a modified Super Powers Collection Wonder Woman that I had to take most of the detail off of, then sculpt the tops of her boots from epoxy putty and add a black light projector on her wrist. It's certainly a sexier outfit than the one-piece swimsuit she's wearing in her origin issue.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Golden Age Hero - The Human Bomb

Police Comics #1, August 1941 had the distinction of presenting the debut of the much beloved Plastic Man along with several other Quality Comics heroes and heroines. Today I'm featuring the final entry in the magazine - the Human Bomb. The story goes that Professor Lincoln and his son Roy have perfected a new super explosive called 27-QRX (supposedly a quart of the stuff would obliterate New York City) when enemy agents enter the lab and demand the formula. When the elder Lincoln refuses he is shot down in cold blood before the eyes of his son, who then leaps into action and begins to trounce the baddies. When the bad guys try to grab a capsule of 27-QRX Roy swallows it and almost immediately his body begins to emit a strange glow. When he trows a punch the lab explodes in a blinding flash and the bad guys are disposed of. He makes a suit from something called fibrowax that was holding the capsule which seems to insulate him from exploding. However, when he removes a glove of the suit he is able to emit controlled explosions. He tracks down the person responsible for sending the bad guys to his father's lab - a man referred to as an "Axis Consul" (remember we weren't in the war yet) - who he gives a taste of the effects of 27-QRX. The Human Bomb continued in Police Comics through #58 in 1946 so he had a pretty good run. He picked up a comic sidekick named Hustace Throckmorton, who had acquired similar powers when he received an emergency blood transfusion from Roy. Throckmorton was then briefly replaced by three youngsters who were called the Bombardiers. It was a rather interesting power being able to blow things up by touching them, but it probably didn't make him very popular on dates. After DC Comics acquired the Quality lineup of characters the Human Bomb joined the ranks of the earth-X superhero group called the Freedom Fighters. He also appeared in the Mark Waid/Alex Ross miniseries Kingdom Come, which I highly recommend. When I was looking to do the action figure I really didn't know how to do the helmet until I found an old set of astronauts and aliens that had clear plastic helmets. I shaped one of them to fit over the head of a Playmates Captain Pike figure and then put little ear pieces on the sides of the helmet that I made by using a hole punch on a bit of sheet plastic. As for the rest, it was basically just painting him white.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lois Lane - Past, Present and Future

There's a new Superman movie in the works called The Man of Steel and most of the principal casting has apparently already been completed with Amy Adams tagged to play Lois Lane. I have a great deal of respect for Amy and her acting ability and I admire the diversity of roles she's taken over the years. I have also noted a discussion of who was the best and worst Lois Lane to date. There's actually more women to chose from than might be expected. On the big screen there's been Noel Neill (who I've had the honor of meeting) who played opposite Kirk Alyn's Superman in a couple of serials back in the 1940s, Margot Kidder (who I've also been honored to meet) and Kate Bosworth (widely alleged to have been the worst Lois). On the small screen there's been Noel Neill again, Teri Hatcher and most recently Erica Durance on the series Smallville. Then there's been a number of actresses who have voiced Lois, both in radio (Rolly Bester in the 1940s), and also in cartoon versions of Superman's adventures, including Dana Delany, Anne Heche and Kyra Sedgwick, among others. But of all the portrayals I have seen I believe that Phyllis Coates (see picture) was absolutely the best. Appearing in the movie Superman and the Mole Men and then moving right into the first season of the TV series The Adventures of Superman in 1951/52, she made the Lois Lane role her own. If you read the early adventures of the Man of Steel you see Lois as a woman ahead of her time - tough, no non-sense, gritty, professional, competitive and yet also very sexy and that was the way Phyllis played her. Phyllis typically wore a business suit in the role but she still looked great. If Clark Kent did something that seemed timid she didn't hesitate to tell him he was a coward in no uncertain terms. She did call on Superman at times but you had the feeling she called on him as she might on the police or the fire department if she got in over her head. And when she did get into trouble she had the most piercing scream in film history - scream queens don't hold a candle to Phyllis!! Many people feel the first season of the the series was the best and a big part of why they think that revolves around Phyllis Coates playing Lois Lane. In the later seasons, with Lois played by Noel Neill, it was a kinder, gentler type of Lois, mostly pining for the Man of Steel and wanting to be Mrs. Superman. That portrayal mirrored the types of story lines that would appear in the Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane comic starting in the late 1950s. But if you like the tough as nails investigative reporter who stands as an equal to Superman in character if not in powers then the Phyllis Coates portrayal is by far - in my humble evaluation - the best of the best. So listen up Amy - you've got impressive high heels to fill.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Hero for the Ages - Uncle Sam

Quality Comics created their character of Uncle Sam in the first issue of National Comics in 1940. His origin was given as a Revolutionary War soldier who, as he lay dying on the battlefield, had a vision of American freedom so powerful that his soul merged with the Spirit of Liberty and he remained on earth to fight for that ideal. Uncle Sam would manifest himself down through history, lending a hand in the cause of American freedom. The name Uncle Sam actually originated from the "US" stamped on the side of meat packing crates and the image was derived from a very popular recruiting poster created for World War I (lower left in the background image). Uncle Sam picked up an orphaned sidekick during the war named Buddy who is the kid waving from his uncle's back. He's one of those far too precocious for his own good kind of boy sidekicks who frequently provide the vehicle for moving the plot along. Uncle Sam was later revived by DC Comics when they took over the Quality line of characters and ended up leading the Freedom Fighters of Earth-X, where World War II lasted into the 1970s. There have been a couple of other attempts at revival with various measures of success, but his is an image that is unlikely to remain dormant for long. As for the action figure, I used a Super Powers Collection Joker body and the head from an Aquaman from the same series, along with the top hat from a Swamp Thing Dr. Deemo. The goatee was made from epoxy putty. One advantage I had when painting the stripes on the trousers was that stripes were etched into the Joker's legs. Sometimes you catch a break.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Golden Age Hero - Captain Triumph

There were no end of captains during the Golden Age. There was Captain America, Captain Marvel (not to mention Captain Marvel, Jr.), Captain Courageous, Captain Red Blazer, Captain Freedom, Captain Battle, Captain Flag, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Well, add Captain Triumph to the list. He was spawned in the mid range of the Golden Age (1943) when the first wave of superhero characters had crashed against the shores of reader's hearts and were rather rapidly receding. First appearing in Crack Comics (probably not a title that would be used today) #27, January 1943 and published by Quality Comics, Captain Triumph was actually an amalgam of two people - twins Michael and Lance Gallant (there was also a Captain Gallant but that's another story altogether). They were identical twins and had been very close throughout their lives. Then Michael became a pilot with the army air corp and one day (their 23rd birthday as it turned out) as he was landing a plane the hanger exploded, witnessed by Lance and Michael's fiance Kim Meredith. Michael died in their arms and Lance swore an oath to avenge his brother. The mythological Fates had been watching and decided to form a champion. Thus Lance was soon visited by the ghost of Michael who told him that if Lance touched the T-shaped birthmark on his left wrist (a feature they had both shared) Michael the ghost would merge with Lance the living and become one super powered entity - Captain Triumph. It turned out to be handy having Michael in ghost form because he could go out and gather information unseen by anyone but Lance (and occasionally Kim) and then merge with Lance when the fisticuffs were required. Lance/Michael and Kim later hooked up with a bruiser named Bif who accompanied them on their adventures. Because he was introduced rather late in the superhero period his outfit is a little less "superheroic" than many in the genre. When I was doing the action figure I decided to use various GI Joe and related parts to make Captain Triumph. The gloves with open fingers came on the figure I used for the arms but I rather liked the effect so I left them. I thought it gave him a more "gonna kick your butt" kind of look.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Miss America Villain - King Cobra

I mentioned in a couple of my earlier posts (you'll just have to read them all to figure out which) that there weren't a lot of costumed super villains during the Golden Age. Miss America from Timely actually had one and so I thought I would feature him today. King Cobra was trying to lay his slimy mits on the plans for a new bomber. Now I'm not sure exactly what King Cobra represented; whether he was a free-lancer out to sell the plans abroad or an actual axis spy. The story appeared in 1944 so there was certainly no need to be coy about his affiliations. But the King and his men don't speak in "deutsched up English" or anything and the story never tells us. Anyway, after killing the guy who designed the bomber the King and his boys keep running into Miss America and her uncle, who is executor of the murdered man's will. The guy leaves all of his worldly possessions to his goldfish!! Turns out the goldfish are the key because one of them has a roll of microfilm attached (must have made it hard for it to swim). Anyway, Miss America triumphs over King Cobra in the end (naturally) and the allies presumably have the plans for the new bomber in their hands. When I was doing the action figure I chose a generic figure from the Steel Men line of grinning manly men - they had a fireman, road worker and a couple of others - and combined him with the head from a Hasbro Atom. I had a little trouble with some of the colors because in some panels the darker color appears to be blue and in some green so I eventually opted for dark green because I liked it better. On the whole I think it came out pretty well.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Golden Age Heroine - Miss America

In another offering from the house of Timely/Atlas/Marvel, I'm presenting Miss America. Of course today she would be named the more politically correct Ms America, but this was the 1940s after all. Born Madeline Joyce, she was a ward of the radio tycoon James Bennet. She had always been a passionate supporter of justice but never felt she had the power to really campaign on its behalf. Then one day upon visiting Professor Lawson, who's experiments with electricity Bennet had been financing, she learned that he had gained certain powers during one of his experiments. Returning later Madeline was exposed to massive concentrations of electricity during a storm and, after a brief period of coma, became super powered herself. She had the power of flight (called psionic levitation??), superhuman strength, X-ray vision and enhanced intelligence. She first appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics #49, October 1943 and subsequently lasted through #85 in February 1948, although there were apparently some skipped numbers. She also had her own comic for a while. She was also a member of the short-lived All Winner's Squad, one of the few superhero groups fielded by Timely during the period. She was resurrected (in more ways than one), both in retro stories printed in the 1970s but set during World War II, and also as the wife of another Golden Age character later in life. I rather like her because she's "perky" in many of the stories. There was a fellow who was posting Miss America stories on the web for a while but I don't know if they are still available. The action figure required more than the usual amount of work. I used the body from a Toy Biz Dagger figure and the head from a Xena. I had to sculpt the shock of hair over her forehead and dreml the back of her head to sculpt the little skull cap she wore. I also sculpted the puffy sleeves. The skirt and cape were made from T-shirt material and the shield on her chest was done freehand, which was a bit of a task. I'm not sure about the color of the hair. It's difficult to tell whether she was a blond with dark highlights or a brunette with light highlights. I ended up making her a brunette because I liked the look better. During the retro period she seems to have been given auburn hair. Hey, so I used a little artistic license - that's what artists do, right??

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Golden Age Hero - Dynamic Man

Sticking with my Timely arc I'm presenting the fantabulous Dynamic Man! Ta da.... But sir, you might say, didn't you feature a Dynamic Man once before earlier in the history of your magnificent blog? Well, yes I did. But this Dynamic Man is different from the earlier Dynamic Man. This one is from the Timely/Atlas/Marvel house while the earlier Dynamic Man was from the Harry "A" Chesler comic publisher. This one, ironically, actually made his first appearance in March 1940 while the Chesler version first appeared in October 1941, so technically the Timely one came first. Again ironically, both of them were apparent androids. This Dynamic Man appeared in Mystic Comics #1-4 (a 4-shot wonder) and was the creation of another one of those ubiquitous scientists so prevalent during the Golden Age, a Professor Goettler. This one throws the switch to activate his creation and drops dead. Dynamic Man flies off to fulfil his programming (you know, truth, justice and the American way kind of stuff). He has been endowed by his creator with the power to generate magnetic fields so he can fly, he has a super intelligence, he can alter his appearance at will, has X-ray vision and can throw electric thunderbolts, sort of like Zeus. As Curt Cowan he aces the FBI entrance exam and goes to work for J. Edgar while also battling evil in his guise as Dynamic Man. I don't normally show the entire cover of a magazine in my posts but I was particularly struck by this one. You have the faceless bad guys sending the bound and beautiful female down the chute to certain doom as the hero bursts through to wall to rescue her and vanquish the bad guys. It would have served as a stereotypical cover both in the age of pulps as well as the time of comics. As for the action figure, I used the body from a Hercules Iolaus and the head from a Cops Longarm. Otherwise it was mostly a paint job but I thought it came out pretty well.